Tag Archives: humility

19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

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Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

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Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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9 July: God favours the humble

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Sculpture at the Visitation Convent in the Holy Land, NAIB

We start the week with a welcome reflection from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton. Sister Clare, the intrepid parachute jumper, is now their Superior General, but found time to get this post to the editors. Thank you Clare!       Will T.

Zechariah 9:9-10 Matthew 11:25-30.

‘Among the pagans, their rulers Lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt.’ (Luke 22:24-25)

By contrast, truly humble people like Jesus seek the good of others, not their own power, status and comfort. Only when such a person becomes a leader is there true joy among the people. They know (s)he understands their struggles and is on their side. A humble leader, who takes on the role only to promote the good of the people, brings real hope of a better life to all together with a sense of community pride and gratitude.

Humble people do not need to reinforce or elevate their own importance. They speak the truth respectfully and consistently, even if no-one pays attention. God favours such people whom Jesus calls ‘the poor in spirit’. If they are poor, voiceless, powerless and marginalised in society, God the Father will choose to reveal His truth to them rather than the powerful, celebrated and accomplished. He will make them His messengers and instruments in the world. Both the Magnificat of Mary and Jesus’ ‘manifesto’, the Beatitudes, assure us of this.

Although humble leaders seem scarce in today’s world, Christ is the King whom Christians really serve while obeying earthly authority in everything that is right.

No worldy ruler has power to compel us because our service is freely given out of love for our true leader. His yoke feels easy and His burden, light because His is an authority we can rejoice to live under.

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Left to right: Sisters Susan, Esther, Elizabeth, Marcellina, Patricia and Clare FMSL

FMSL

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June 5: The Virtue of Justice I:Prudence Revisited.

Picture Wed 2nd March

Over to Sister Johanna for her reflections on the second Cardinal Virtue: Justice.

The cardinal virtues come in a famous pack of four: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. We looked at prudence in some of our previous posts. I thought it time now to move to the moral virtue that is next in line: justice.

If you weren’t here for the posts on prudence, then it might help briefly to revisit them: they began on 24th April, and can be found at this link.

Prudence has a lot to do with seeing reality as it is, not as we would like it to be. It is also to do with being able to plot out a course of action which takes that reality into account. A prudent person is a great one to have as a confidant, it seems to me. He or she will ask you a lot of questions and help you to arrive peacefully at a decision – which, in the end, will still be your decision, because the questions and answers that prudence considers do not force you into anything. Rather, they reveal a path by clearing away the weeds, and so enable you freely to walk down that path, and own the decision. The words of great twentieth century Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper,* can be enlightening. He says:

Prudence has a double aspect. One side is concerned with gathering knowledge, with establishing a yardstick, and is directed toward reality; the other side is concerned with decision and command, with evaluation, and is directed toward action.

I love the idea that prudence is about gathering the knowledge that enables us to understand reality. Behind this is the humble acknowledgement that as fallen creatures, our view of things is apt to be distorted. Prudence is about opening our eyes to the truth of things and situations, so that our subsequent decisions and actions will be directed toward that same truth and goodness. ‘Prudence translates the truth of real things into the goodness of human activity…. Thus prudence does not simply rank first in the scale of cardinal virtues, it actually is the “mother of virtues.” And “gives birth” to the others’ (Pieper).

SJC

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27 May: Humour in humility.

 

I was reading the obituary of Bishop Douglas Milmine, the first Anglican Bishop of Paraguay, and of late an honorary assistant Bishop in Chichester. A remarkable man of God.

He had a favourite prayer which would have tickled the Lord as much as it tickled himself: ‘Lord, make me humble for you know how important I am.’

Is that the Publican or the Pharisee or the funny man speaking? Which of the three would write a memoir called ‘Stiff Upper Smile? The prayer is a hearty laugh at himself, and God bless him for sharing it and for all the good he did in his life.

MMB.

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December 2, Jacopone da Todi 6: The Life of Jesus is the Mirror of the Soul

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Acquiring a few virtues that might make us better friends to the wandering crowds seems to many a very drawn-out process. But Jesus stays close to our half-hearted attempts. It is he who makes us capable of a thankful life caught up within the immensity of God’s goodness.

“To see my deformities in the mirror of truth,

The life of Jesus Christ,

To see them, Lord,

In that blinding light!

Once I looked upon myself as a person of some importance

And my self-esteem helped to brighten my days.

I saw my charity – Love half-spoiled;

One look and my world dissolved

In dizzying, turbulent confusion.

In that mirror I saw my notion of justice –

A denial of true virtue, robbing God of his honour.

Though outwardly orderly and composed,

The heart, ever bolder, coveted all;

Its flood waters had submerged reason,

The reason it was meant to serve.

In your light, O Lord, I have seen my nothingness,

My less than nothingness. The vision compels humility.

….I cannot be reborn unless I first die to myself.

O glorious state, in the quiet centre of the void,

The intellect and emotions at rest!

I cannot swim in that ocean of fathomless depths,

I will sink beneath the waves, a man drowned.

Overwhelmed by… my sweet Lord,

I settle into the sands at the bottom of the sea.”              (Laud 39)

 

 

Gratitude for recognising Christ as Lord within the vastness of God is the fullest art of celebration.

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November 28: Jacopone da Todi 2. Attending to Faces in a Dark Mirror

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When we aim to understand ourselves in a deeper way, and spend time focussing inwards, the dark impressions which we recover at first are not reassuring. We may experience our soul’s troubled waters as a shadowy pool. What light we find there feels moody, insubstantial and even riddled with foreboding.

When St. Paul said ‘we see as through a glass darkly’, (1 Corinthians 13:12) it was surely the kind of seeing we attempt to enjoy as the character and creative traits of others. But at first we are not skilled in reading these correctly. We meet the mistrust and suspicion of others, or display to them more of our own suspicion than we would have wished them to notice. Jacopone tackles this clash well.

“Draw yourself up to your full stature

And thunder me a sermon for the mote in my eye.

You scorn me, oblivious of the beam in your own.

Tend your own wounds, so wide and deep they cannot heal.

 

“Students of Scripture, you want to preach,

And point out the darkness in my life, ignoring yours;

You make a show of your exterior, and have little love

For anyone who would search your heart instead.”

We sometimes wonder, when we lock horns, who will back down first? But as Christians we each have reserves of humility in our shady, glassy inner pool. We have to trust these and plunge into them as we would plunge into God, for the sake of a genuine friendship.

 

Chris D.

October 2016.

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25 October: Lest ye be judged … I

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walking together

I had just started working with a pupil who could not cope with school; fidgeting all through his second 1:1 session with me. I had to let him go home early.

Later, as I texted his mother, I thought: ‘I don’t expect any response.’

Two minutes later, BLEAT, BLEAT, from the phone: ‘Dear Will, thank you for letting me know how he’s getting on, I do appreciate it.’

Mea culpa! But there was cream on this humble pie.

WT.

 

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4 October: Being a Follower of St Francis Today.

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Saint Francis at the Holy Family Sanctuary, Zakopane, Poland, MMB

What does it mean – being a follower of St Francis today?

Francis of Assisi, born in 1182 – died in 1226 – and people are today still following him.  But what does that mean? Being a follower of Francis?

Francis always, always points us away from himself and towards Christ.  We could say then that to be a follower of St Francis is to be first and foremost a follower of Christ after the example of Francis.

What does that mean?  What was the example of Francis?  A few examples might help.

Francis was a man who fell hopelessly and totally in love with God, with Christ.  This did not happen overnight.   He had many struggles on the way as all of us will have who seek to love Christ totally.  It all came to a head in 1224, two years before he died, when he received the Sacred Stigmata on Mount Alverna. The sign of Francis’ love for Christ and the seal of Christ’s love for Francis.  Another sign then of a being a follower of Francis is a constant falling in love with Christ.

Francis had a tremendous love for nature, for creation.  He saw creation, creatures, all creatures, all created things as coming from the same source – the Fatherhood of God. Therefore all things were his brothers and sisters.  Because of this all creation, all his brothers and sisters were to be treated with the greatest respect and dignity.   To Franciscans today what does that say to them with regard to the refugees, the hate crimes, the spoiling of our earth?

What other characteristics of Francis do we find that followers of Francis would wish to emulate? The list is never ending and I am sure you can add to it but who can forget his love for the Infant Child.

Francis could never get over the fact that God became a human being just like us.  That he was born just like any other person as a tiny baby with human needs.  To bring that fact home to the men and women of his day he had the first crib built in Greccio.  Through this he teaches us the humility of God.  If God shows such humility how, he asks us, can we dare to show any pride when all that we have and are come from God.

MMcG

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16 September: Mirror, mirror … III

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Another reflection from Mrs T’s mirror: she copied this little list onto another scrap of paper, but I cannot find it now; it seems to have got blown away. Still, even if I’d forgotten the whole thing, Richard Rohr OFM, whose list it is, is well ensconced on the internet: see our link on the right for his website.

This is as good a vade mecum as you’ll find anywhere.

1) Life is hard.

2) You are not that important.

3) Your life is not about you.

4) You are not in control.

5) You are going to die.

Mrs T describes this as ‘tremendously liberating’, and it does give another way to look at the golden rule of ‘Do as you would be done by’ or ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Lots of worries can be revisited and laid aside, with this list in mind.

WT.

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14 September. The dining room is a microcosm of the world: Luke 14.

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Jesus was on trial. People were watching him to see what kind of person he was. The irony is, of course, that he was also watching them. They were concerned about who occupied the coveted place of honour. The place of honour is literally, the first couch, at the highest kind of formal meal, a reclining feast. We are watching a social drama. The dining room was a theatre. The closer to your host, the more important you were. Place at dinner showed position in society.

We have seen enough humiliated politicians being carted off to prison whilst all their former friends who have eaten their bread, drunk their wine, done their favours and benefited from their patronage, go to ground and refuse to know them anymore. The highest place can be quickly changed for the lowest place and there is no shortage of gloating onlookers happy to say ‘I always knew this would happen’.

The dining room is a microcosm of the world, reflecting the accepted order in it. For the host the occasion was a mirror in which he could see his own power and privilege reflected. He was at the centre, this artificial world turned on the host who called it into being. Wanting recognition and the trappings of fame is actually a failure in proper self-love and self-worth. The banqueters look at the gathering in order to see themselves reflected in the esteem and acceptance of the others. They are looking for their own true image, but the true image of humanity is there with them. Here is what is to be truly human: Jesus. They are watching him but they cannot see him, because they are too taken up with what people will think.

  • to be continued.

AMcC

 

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